Interview Lucius Shepard
de Lucius Shepard
aux éditions
Genre : Art book

Auteurs : Lucius Shepard
Date de parution : 0000 Inédit
Langue d'origine : Français
Type d'ouvrage : Interview mail
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Actusf : To make a classical start, how did you get involved with fantasy and science fiction ?
Lucius Shepard : I was in a rock band that broke up under devastating circumstances and I was moping around the house. Without my knowing it, my wife sent in a partial story I had written, my first story, to the Clarion workshop and I was accepted. The story happened to be a fantasy set in Latin America. I didn’t have anything better to do, so I went to the workshop for six weeks and my work was well received. I started writing full-time afterward and made my first sale a few months later.

Actusf : You were first published back in the 80’s. You were 35 years old then. Had you been writing for a while at that time, or was this kind of a turning point at that very moment ?
Lucius Shepard : No, I had not been writing fiction. I had written the partial story I mentioned, but mainly I’d been writing songs. However, I’d had a writer’s education, courtesy of my father. He gave me a classical education—by the time I was twelve, I’d read the Greek and Roman histories, the Romantic poets, all of Shakespeare, Dickens, Melville, etc. This provided me with a good understanding of the language and its rhythms, its potentials. Then at the age of 16 I dropped out of school and traveled around the world, living a sort of knockabout existence for the next ten years, acquiring material (unintentionally). My understanding of language and my experiences eventually cooked together in my brain and I started to write.
 
Actusf : You travelled the world a lot, but being a writer is quite a solitary and "static" way of life. What makes you drop your luggages for good and is writing a way to keep on travelling ?
Lucius Shepard : I really haven’t stopped traveling. I manage to spend part of most years in Central America. In addition, last year I was in Europe for a month. This year I’m going to Brazil for a few weeks and I’ll be sojourning in Switzerland for a couple of months. My health is fairly good and I still travel to remote portions of the world, where the amenities are scant. There was a period during the nineties when I didn’t travel much, but that was an anomaly. I like being an ex-pat. All the noise that’s in one’s head—the politics and the entertainment stuff, the sports, the filler material— it dies down when you’re five thousand miles away from and that makes it easier to think about your own country. It sharpens one’s senses. I also earn part of my living as a journalist, and I take assignments that carry me to different parts of the United States. For example, I did a piece for Spin on hobos, that required me to ride the rails for six weeks. So life isn’t all that static. And yes, my writing does facilitate my travel to a certain extent. Laptop computers help quite a bit.

Actusf : Why fantasy and science fiction ? What’s turn you on, with those genres ?
Lucius Shepard : I write so-called general fiction as well as genre fiction, but what brings me back to fantasy and science fiction, particularly fantasy, is that they allow me a freedom that writing about ordinary things and lets me to do pretty much anything I want with my characters, to play with reality, hold it up to light obliquely and, if I’m lucky, to shine that light into some corners that have been gathering dust. For instance, I’m writing a short novel now called Halloween Town, a kind of working class fantasy set in a town at the bottom of a gorge so narrow and deep, the sky is essentially invisible and the houses of the town are built against the sides of the cliffs, one tiny room atop another, and there’s a serial killer that preys only on cats, and the protagonist is a man named Clyde Ormoloo who has suffered a head injury that causes him to become smarter the more light there is, a circumstance with which he’s uncomfortable. Writing this story is pure pleasure for me and it’s stories (and they’re always fantasy) like this one that almost write themselves, that are like gifts...they inspire me to keep writing fantasy in hopes I’ll discover another one.
 
Actusf : As Louisiana Breakdown is hitting the shelves down here, could you tell us what gave you the basic idea of this book ?
Lucius Shepard : I wrote a few pages of the opening, as I usually do, and then stopped to figure out what was going on. I guess the synchronicity of the idea of a general breakdown, the car, the characters, the culture of the town, the ecology, is what appealed to me and sparked the rest of the story. I liked the challenge of pulling all that together without being preachy. On another level, the idea of the story was secondary to the language. I enjoyed the musical flavors of the prose, the poetic touches, and the images I was coming up with. So it was mainly the quasi-mystical vernacular of those first few pages that dictated the themes. 
 
Actusf : The way you’re depicting Louisiana in the book seems to have strong literary roots, talking about music and the mystery part of this country. What is so fascinating to you in Louisiana ?
Lucius Shepard : Easier to say what doesn’t fascinate me about Louisiana, which strikes me as the strangest of all America’s fifty states. But I’m particularly fascinated by the myriad varieties of religious expression that flourish there in the storefront churches of New Orleans, in the Pentecostal churches of towns like Shreveport and along the backwaters and swamps and bayous, where religion twists into bizarre forms of obsession. I’m interested in the way people integrate these beliefs into their lives, sometimes in very interesting ways. I’m intrigued by the oil culture along the Gulf, by the weird mutant lizards and frogs and so forth that are a byproduct of that culture. I’m love the quirky stories I hear when I travel there, like this one :

A friend was driving around checking out some yard sales and comes across big pile of stuff in one yard (including a drum kit) and a sign that reads : Everything must go—$15O. He tells the guy selling the stuff that he’ll give him a hundred bucks just for the drum kit, but the guy says, “No, you gotta take it all or nothing.” So my friend gives him the money and starts loading the stuff into his van. Just as he’s finishing, the guy comes out of his house carrying a box and says, “Here, take this too.”

My friend gets home and looks in the box. It’s a lamp with what appears to be a parchment shade and little red pom-poms hanging from it. The parchment feels odd so he has someone take a look at it, and it turns out to be human skin. He learns that the guy who sold it to him is a junkie who’s notorious for having slept through Hurricane Katrina. He and his wife fixed just as the storm was hitting and when they woke up their neighborhood was flooded and half the people in it were dead. 

Now that’s just the beginning of the story. My friend’s still trying to trace the lamp’s origin, and the story is evolving daily, involving (among other things) a famous musician, the Faust myth, and elements even more surprising. But it’s typical of the kind of stories and characters I learn about whenever I’m down there. Everyone in Louisana seems to be a storyteller. If you’re a writer, you can’t help but love that.

Actusf : There are some very classical scenes in the main plot of Louisiana Breakdown (the breakdown in itself is set in this very secluded place. A place which is haunted by an unspeakable secret...). Did you wink at those very classical sub plots on purpose ?
Lucius Shepard : Yeah, I knew I was walking on well-trod ground. I recognize now that the story is a variation on Orpheus and Eurydice, but at the time I was thinking about that only peripherally, if at all. I’m an intuitive writer. I’m not good at planning things. I may have the germ of idea to begin with, usually deriving from something I’ve seen or done, but basically I just start messing around on the computer and if it starts to be a story, that’s great. But the elements of my stories most often come as surprises to me. As do the themes, the sub-text, the allusions, and damn near everything else.
 
Actusf : Your hero plays guitar, and music is very important in the story. Is the blues indissociable from the Bayou Country ?
Lucius Shepard : The blues, Cajun music, jazz...it’s all inseparable from Bayou Country. But all that music has roots in the blues, and the Mississippi Delta is where the blues sprang from. There’s a passage in the story :
He played an uptempo blues—you couldn’t play much except blues on a National Steel. It took too much pressure to hammer down on the strings, to bend and pluck them. The notes that issued from the resonator inside the steel body came out dull, like nickels dropped in a blind man’s cup. You had to work to brighten them, you had to labor at it, and from that labor, from cracking open your calluses on the strings so that your blood trickled along the neck, from squeezing your eyes shut with effort, came the feeling of passionate striving that was the blues, and even if you weren’t weren’t any good, what you played was never less than blue.

That feeling of passionate striving is one I associate with Louisiana. It seems to run all through the state, to be simmering underneath the surface, like a pulse in your neck on a really hot day. Living there, you have a relationship with the blues, no matter how unmusical you are.
 
Actusf : Jack Mustaine is a musician on the run. How do you see him ? Someone who’s at a loose end ?
Lucius Shepard : Mustaine’s definitely at loose ends. He’s a composite of people I met while I was in the music business, men in their late twenties, early thirties, talented men who haven’t succeeded in grabbing the brass ring, but aren’t yet willing to accept that music may not be their path to fame and fortune. I imagine I was such a man myself, but Jack Mustaine is way better-looking. He’s basically a good guy, but has more than a touch of amorality, and that makes him unreliable. He’s a user, albeit a benign one for the most part. The car that breaks down was given him by a woman whom he was living off of and left without a word of farewell—at least he has the decency to feel badly about it. He wants to be strong for Vida, but she presents him with a circumstance he’s not equal to. He’d like to be a hero, but it’s not in him. Yet he’s genuinely moved by Vida, by her predicament as much as her beauty. 
 
Actusf : On the other side, there’s your heroine. She has a strong personality, but in the same time, she doesn’t seem to know where she goes. She’s struggling against her own nature, but seems quite bewildered ?
Lucius Shepard : Vida is damaged goods. She’s been through some bad stuff and it’s taken a toll on her emotional stability. She’s strong enough to save herself, but she’s got a few cracks and when she comes under pressure, the cracks tend to spread. I don’t think Vida understands who she is. She’s tough, she can endure a lot, but at the same time she’s been socialized to be submissive from a young age, so her strength doesn’t do her much good. She’s got a lot of contradictions. She obviously believes in the power of love, yet she doesn’t trust men and can be very pragmatic about them. She believes in voodoo, in witches and wizards, but she’s practical in business and feels there’s no remedy for her problems, no hope for her future. Like many women, she believes in magic, but not as it applies to her own life, except in terrible ways. Both she and Mustaine are people who’ve failed themselves yet are looking to each other for salvation.
 
Actusf : Does the The Good Gray Man come from an urban legend, or did you invent him ?
Lucius Shepard : I made him up. I realize there are quite a few similar figures in fantasy, but the particular nature of the Good Gray Man, the twist on the traditional figure of the bogeyman, is mine.
 
Actusf : The ending of Louisiana Breakdown is quite surprizing ? Do you think
that men are necessarily of poor influence on forces they can barely handle ?

Lucius Shepard : If one takes a look at recent history, I think it’s fairly clear that we are subject to forces we can’t control, even those of our own contrivance. We commonly place ourselves, for instance, under the rule of leaders who are patently mad and/or deluded. The planet is in deep trouble, we’re in a constant state of warfare, etc., etc. We don’t seem able to pull it together as nations except when we reach a condition of crisis. It’s unreasonable to assume that as individuals we’re different. We make childlike bargains with God, with ourselves, and we usually cheat on them. Most of us are prone to laziness as regards all matters, especially moral ones...So, yeah. It’s hard to influence anything if you’re not that good at influencing yourself.

Actusf : What are your current projects ?
Lucius Shepard : Currently I’m working on Halloween Town, as mentioned, and a big fantasy novel set in South Carolina and a non-fiction book called With Christmas in Honduras. It’s about Central America and, in particular, about a soldier of fortune named Lee Christmas, who helped the United Fruit Company gain dominance in that region.

Jérôme Vincent